While we are watching the breath-taking adoption of smart voice assistance and subsequent growth of searching-by-voice popularity, marketers still don’t have the fundamental question figured out:
With half of search queries predicted to soon be spoken (and hence half of the search results being spoken), where will the clicks come from?
In other words, does voice search mean the death of search referral traffic?
To some extent, it may… but this is by no means going to cause the death of digital marketing.
What is voice search?
Voice search, or Conversational Search, is the state-of-the-art human/machine interaction wherein voice search-enabled devices can answer spoken search queries.
Conversational search platforms analyze spoken words and reply with responses in a computerized voice that resembles natural language. Voice search is currently integrated into a plethora of devices including mobile phones, tablets, streaming device remotes, and home assistants.
Speaking of the latter, currently, the four main voice search platforms are:
|Platform||Name of the assistant||Search engine being used|
To sum up:
- Amazon: Amazon’s Alexa Voice Search uses the Bing search engine to pull information.
- Apple: Apple developed Siri in 2011 and initially used Bing but has now transitioned to Google.
- Google: Google Voice Search relies on Google search engine algorithms.
- Windows: With Windows 10 came the built-in assistant, Cortana, who uses Bing.
To give you a bit of background before we get into tactics here, here’s how the search algorithms are changing to accommodate the growing voice searching trend:
How the search players are keeping up
With the rise of voice search came changes to old-school search engine platforms. Search engines like Bing and Google are slowly moving from a keyword-centric format to analyzing semantics and natural language processing which produces search results more on par with voice search.
In the Fall of 2003, the Google Hummingbird algorithm created an environment where SERPs are populated more with search results that use context clues like the type of device used, geolocation of the search, time of day, and previous searches of the user. To maximize the search result potential, Google uses a machine learning technology called RankBrain.
RankBrain is mainly used as a middle-man, interpreting the search to identify web pages that match the search criteria but don’t necessarily use the exact words of the search phrase. RankBrain relies heavily on semantics, going beyond keywords and diving into the contextual meaning of the search phrase. Voice search is a new reason for content creators to focus on the structure of their content and analyze each web page and article to answer specific personas.
Voice search ranking factors
In February 2018, Backlinko, a go-to source for SEO and content marketing advice, published a research study where they gathered and analyzed 10,000 Google Home (a voice search enabled virtual assistant device) search results. Backlinko examined 11 ranking factors and six content-focused factors.
- Length: Google Voice Search favors shorter answers equaling an average of 29 words per result.
- Readability: Easy-to-read content can help with voice search SEO. Average results are written at the 9th-grade level.
- Word count: Google tends to extract voice search results from long-form content with an average page word count of 2,312.
- Featured snippet: Web pages that appear in Google’s featured snippets are more likely to be sourced for voice searches. 40.7% of results come from featured snippets.
- org: 36.4% of results originate from pages that use Schema.org.
How to optimize your product pages for voice search
Now that we all generally understand where we are coming from, let’s get to tactics here:
1. Optimize product description for related terms and concepts
Remember how I mentioned above that search engines understand context much better now. No keyword is isolated: Google uses machine learning and semantic analysis to understand what each typed or spoken query really means.
Well, there are tools that can help you think like Google. TextOptimizer uses Google’s search snippets for your query to extract the context (related terms and concepts) using semantic analysis. What you need now is to select those that apply to your product and naturally cover them in your product description.
Keep working on your product description until TextOptimizer scores it at least at 80 or higher.
2. Add product Q & A
Another voice search SEO practice is optimizing content for the 5W + H questions, or who, what, when, where, why and how.
Isolating a single snippet of information allows Google and Intelligent Agents to answer the 5W + H questions quickly and succinctly. Becoming a quick answer to a problem is a massive boon to your web page.
Use tools like Answer The Public and, again, TextOptimizer (its Topic Ideas section) to research related questions and cover them on your product page:
Adding an on-site glossary (internally linking to your product pages) is another good idea to generate some visibility from information-intent-based searching and still getting some sales by providing your product as a solution. Here’s a good example of a glossary that is well structured and well-optimized.
3. Use HTML headings
Use H2 and H3 headings to point search engines to your page structure and hierarchy. This also helps the page to get featured more, even if you are currently ranking below the top 5 organic search positions:
Image Source: digitaleagles.com.au
Getting featured is your best bet to rank for voice search queries and the smart keyword-optimized use of subheadings is your best bet to get featured.
Serpstat Text Analytics is one of the best ways to create your optimization strategy that is geared towards content structuring. Provide your query and Serpstat will analyze your competitors’ title and heading usage and return the clear optimization steps for you to do an even better job than them:
Image Source: SEW
4. Use lists and tables
Finally, if you organize your page with bullet points, tables, and highlights, voice search platforms will better understand your content.
An added benefit is that clean organization increases readability and gives an incentive to scan through before leaving, so you may see more people willing to engage with your product page instead of leaving it immediately.
5. Add product schema
While keeping SEO simple is still a good idea, search engines could always use some help in understanding your pages better.
Schema.org generally helps search engines better understand and faster interpret your page. When it comes to voice search optimization, it also helps them pick up important numbers, like prices, deals, and the review score. If these are read to a voice search user, they will be more likely to add your product to the shopping cart.
6. Monitor your mobile rankings closely
Voice search results are tightly connected to mobile search results: Whatever you are seeing ranking #1 or being featured on mobile will likely be read to a user in response to a voice search query. This makes mobile rankings even more important.
Rankedy is one of the few SEO platforms recognizing the importance of mobile position tracking and giving a clear report combining both the desktop and mobile search:
With its Rank Journal feature it’s also easy to spot some important correlations as to what influenced ranking change:
So where will the clicks be coming from?
While I understand why many years of focusing on traffic may impact the overall SEO mindset, this is not the question to ask.
If there’s voice searching, there will be voice buying (Hint: it already exists). Don’t go after clicks: Aim at making your products easier to discover and possible to buy without ever using the screen, and you’ll stay (or become) ahead of your competition.
All in all, as Microsoft’s @PurnaVirji put it, the basic principle remains the same:
“The best way to think about what to d, is to find ways to best serve your audience. What are pain points that conversation can make easier? Start with that. Then leverage voice search for the discoverability it can help provide.”
Voice search is an ever-growing technology that more and more users are adopting. Marketers have the chance to utilize a new SEO format to advance their page further. In a voice search, the first result is the only one that matters.
For best voice search SEO, you have to develop a conversational format and take a guess at what search engine users will ask to land on your page.
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